This five-star story is written by Shirley Jackson.
It was originally published in 1959, and has been adapted to movies under the name The Haunting twice, first in 1963, and then again in 1999. While I enjoyed the 1999 one (I haven’t seen the 1963 one), they are completely different in style. If you only do one, read the book and give the movies a miss.
The story is about four people–the supernatural investigator Dr. John Montague, the repressed Eleanor Vance, the flamboyant artist Theodora, and finally the heir of the house, Luke Sanderson–who come to Hill House, built by Hugh Crain for his wife, who died in an accident as she travelled to the house for the first time.
With that, let me introduce you to the most important character, using Shirley Jackson’s own words in a magnificent first paragraph:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of
absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill
House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had
stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued
upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence
lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked
there, walked alone.
Shirley Jackson is brilliant with words, and her characters are nicely rounded. What is actually going on? Are there ghosts at Hill House–maybe the poor servant who committed suicide after being accused of killing her employer–or is it just that all old houses have their quirks?
Eleanor senses more than any of the others, and the house seems to communicate with her … or is she slowly slipping into a psychosis?
This book has been called one of the finest horror novels of the late 20th century, and it deserves that title and more. I couldn’t stop reading it, even when I had to pull my legs up underneath me, because who knows what might lurk under the sofa? It’s not filled with gore, but the way it shifts between "is this real, or is she slowly losing her mind, or maybe both" makes it a great read for anyone who likes to be spooked.